Coach Scott Skiles believes the Bulls can make off-season personnel decisions based on how players handle the pressure of the playoff chase.
"This is where when you sit around in the summertime, a good way to evaluate your players is to figure out who can step up, who can make big plays," he said before Saturday's game against Philadelphia.
"I think we may have some guys feeling the heat a little bit of having to perform. But that's the pros. That's what it's all about."
It probably goes without saying that any player out with an injury won't get high marks in handling the heat. Bulls center Eddy Curry missed his third game with a left hamstring strain, and forward Luol Deng has been out since March 1 with a sprained right ankle. Both players hope to return Monday when the Bulls host Atlanta.
Until they beat Philadelphia 94-88 Saturday, the Bulls were 0-5 this season in games Curry did not play. Skiles had little to say when asked if that record says anything about Curry's value to the team.
"I'm not even worried about that right now," Skiles said. "It's not for me to judge anyone's value. That's for (general manager) John (Paxson) to judge."
In comparison, Skiles' enthusiasm grew when he talked about two of the team's running wounded - Andres Nocioni and Kirk Hinrich.
"Noc is all screwed up," Skiles said. "He's got a deep thigh bruise, I guess. He's got an impacted molar he's dealing with that's very bad. He's battling through a lot of injuries right now. Just to be out there and playing, it's very impressive."
"Kirk, the fact that he's even playing speaks to his toughness," Skiles said. "He probably shouldn't be playing. I catch him dragging it a little bit. But he's playing with a big heart out there right now."
Eddy Curry's hamstring may be balky, but the heart of this gritty and resilient Bulls team is very, very healthy.
Playing without their center for the third straight game, the banged-up Bulls stared at falling back to .500 and into a tie with Philadelphia in the playoff race before they posted a come-from-behind, 94-88 victory Saturday night.
Coach Scott Skiles expressed curiosity about how his team would respond to the Bulls' first meaningful late-season games in seven seasons. Playing their fourth game in five nights, and with starters Kirk Hinrich, Chris Duhon and Andres Nocioni all banged up, the Bulls answered in a big way.
Othella Harrington scored a season-high 24 points, Ben Gordon added 22 and Hinrich shook off his sore hamstring to flirt with a triple-double, finishing with 21 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.
"We needed this desperately as a team," Hinrich said. "I've been saying for awhile: We need to learn to play hard every game. If we play like this, high-energy on the defensive end, we can do some things. If not, we're not the type of team that can win a lot of games."
The Bulls snapped a four-game skid and won the season series from the 76ers, earning a playoff tiebreaker if needed.
A 12-0 Bulls run early in the fourth-quarter complemented extremely tough defense by Hinrich and Duhon on Allen Iverson, who scored 24 of his 31 points in the first half and committed 11 turnovers.
"We've been in way tougher situations than this," Chandler said. "This was just a mini-slump. We can win eight in a row. That's what has to be in our heads."
Such positive thinking was in short supply before the game. That's when Nocioni nursed a deep thigh bruise and an impacted molar that may be removed on Sunday and Curry tested his sore hamstring before declaring he couldn't go.
"This is extremely tough, especially because teams behind us are gaining ground," Curry said. "But running on it hurts and trying to plant and change directions is hard."
Skiles tersely answered a question about the Bulls going 0-5 without Curry before Saturday. "It's not for me to judge anybody's value," Skiles said. "That's for [general manager John Paxson] to judge."
But afterward, positive vibes abounded.
"We may have some guys feeling the heat a little bit of having to perform," Skiles said. "That's the pros. And that's a good thing. These [late-season] games have meant nothing [in recent seasons]. Now they mean something. That's good. Our guys need to go through that."
it's time to separate the men from the boys.